Alpha wolf Selenka Durev’s devotion to her pack is equaled only by her anger at anyone who would harm those under her care. That currently includes the empaths who’ve flowed into her city for a symposium that is a security nightmare, a powder keg just waiting for a match.
Ethan Night is an Arrow who isn’t an Arrow. Numb and disengaged from the world, he’s loyal only to himself. Assigned as part of the security force at a world-first symposium, he carries a dark agenda tied to the power-hungry and murderous Consortium. Then violence erupts and Ethan finds himself crashing into the heart and soul of an alpha wolf.
Mating at first sight is a myth, a fairytale. Yet Selenka’s wolf is resolute: Ethan Night, broken Arrow and a man capable of obsessive devotion, is the mate it has chosen. Even if the mating bond is full of static and not quite as it should be. Because Selenka’s new mate has a terrible secret, his mind surging with a power that is a creature of madness and death…
About the Author
Nalini lives and works in beautiful New Zealand. For contact details and to find out more about her series, please visit her website.
Read an Excerpt
The subject displays obsessive tendencies that can be utilized to your advantage. If you manage to turn his loyalty toward you, he will never betray you.
-Intake report: Psych, on subject Ethan Night, age six, for Councilor Ming LeBon (2061)
Selenka blamed the bears.
If Valentin hadn't gone and mated Silver Mercant, the rest of them wouldn't be standing around at this giant target of a symposium. It might as well be flashing the words "Here We Are! Come Attack Us!"
As if he'd felt her burning gaze, the bear changeling alpha turned from where he was talking to one of his senior people and waved, accompanying it with a big grin. She glared at him, in no mood for bear charm.
"You don't like bears?" asked a clear male voice, his Russian unaccented and his words toneless.
Selenka had sensed his approach-she wasn't alpha of the most powerful wolf pack in Russia because people could sneak up on her. Not that she had to worry much about sneaking when it came to the other major pack in the area. Bears could sneak about as well as ten-thousand-pound elephants.
This man, however, he was quiet. He also smelled like a crisp winter wind around a flame so hot it was blue, with none of that cold metallic smell changelings had learned to look out for among Psy. Those of the psychic race who had that smell were so far gone into the emotionless protocol they called Silence that there was usually no coming back.
"Yesterday, I had to bail three normally well-behaved wolves out of jail," she said without looking at the male who stood next to her, his height maybe an inch above her five eleven. "Do you know why?"
"Bears." A grim confirmation. "Nice bears who talked my wolves into going for a 'friendly' drink. So friendly that half the bar ended up in a brawl." The bears had found it hilarious, had still been grinning when she bailed out her three sheepish wolves.
Selenka did not find it amusing.
Her wolves were disciplined predators; they didn't go around starting bar brawls. Especially not bar brawls where one of them ended up stinking of raspberry daiquiri, his blond hair pink as a result of the enormous cocktail that had been poured over him. The three would be working off the bar's repair bill into next year.
Her wolves weren't disciplined simply because she was a hard-ass; it had to do with the different temperaments of their animals. Bears could be brutal hunters, but generally, they were laid-back unless provoked. You could poke a changeling bear multiple times before it rumbled a growl and swiped out with a paw.
Wolves could be pushed to violence far faster. A bear might laugh off an insult that would send a wolf into cold anger. Because bears took not much seriously, while many wolves had an innate and deadly intensity.
Each had pros and cons. The laid-back ursine nature could lead to laziness and had done so in a previous alpha-the reason Selenka's pack had been able to take over a chunk of bear territory. But her wolves' primal instincts could lead to rash actions and bloodshed.
Discipline was key to a strong wolf pack.
"But the relationship must be cordial," the stranger said, with no alteration in his flat tone, and yet his voice, it was hauntingly beautiful in its clarity and pitch. "If the two groups are drinking together?"
"'Cordial' isn't quite how I'd put it." The BlackEdge wolves and the StoneWater bears had a teeth-gritted truce. Mostly because they were each as dangerous as the other. After a few skirmishes, the two groups had grudgingly come to the same conclusion: a war would decimate them both and leave Moscow and its surrounds open for takeover by another changeling pack.
These days, they satisfied themselves by growling or glaring at each other over the border-or blowing kisses across rooms. That last was nearly always a bear move. Selenka knew Valentin's bears did it to get a rise out of her wolves-which was why she'd told her wolves to respond with fluttered lashes and obviously fake smiles.
Selenka wasn't proud of it, but the damn bears could drive a saint to murder. And wolf and bear were both predators. It was either play this game of mutual annoyance, or tear each other to pieces. Right now, however, Valentin's bears were a peripheral concern at best. She was far more interested in the cool, dangerous presence next to her.
Had to be an Arrow.
No one else would be suicidal enough to walk up to a wolf alpha who was so clearly in a bad mood.
She shifted on her heel to face him and her gaze slammed into eyes of the palest brown she had ever seen. The color was beyond hazel, beyond topaz, and into a crystalline purity that was the faintest wash of color.
Only the jet black of his pupils broke the startling paleness.
The effect was even more striking against the honey brown of his skin. Chiseled cheekbones pushed against that skin, and his hair was a shaggy black, the same shade as the scruff that darkened his jaw. His eyes had the faintest upward tilt. It was impossible to pinpoint his ethnicity. Not surprising, since the Psy apparently had a way of mixing and mingling genes to increase the chances of powerful psychic offspring.
To the psychic race that shared the world with humans and changelings, looks were secondary to psychic power, but this Arrow was a hell of a good-looking man by any estimation. Add in the sense of lethal strength that clung to him, and, no, Selenka wouldn't kick him out of her bed. The scruff, too, was interesting. Arrows tended to be clean-shaven as a rule. But what had both parts of her-wolf and woman-giving him a second look was the unwavering focus with which he watched her.
Rare non-changelings could hold an alpha changeling's gaze, but usually only for a second or two. They'd start to sweat at that point, their hearts pounding as their primal core recognized the threat in front of them. The only ones who could maintain the contact full stop were alphas in their own right, even if humans or the Psy didn't think in terms of changeling hierarchy.
This man wasn't an alpha.
The knowledge was pure instinct, born of her wolf.
He wore the black combat uniform of an Arrow, with its high collar and pants cuffed into boots, and he gave off an effect similar to those deadly telekinetics, telepaths, and assorted other Psy who-according to Selenka's intel-had once been assassins for the now-defunct Psy Council. He even had a gleaming black gauntlet clipped over his left forearm, which her tech specialist had informed her was a new form of field-suitable mobile comm the Arrows were trialing.
Yet this man didn't come across the same way as other members of the squad.
He also continued to hold her gaze with zero appearance of discomfort. Her wolf could've read that as a challenge, but instead, dark red embers glowed to life in her belly. It had been too long since she'd shared intimate skin privileges with anyone; why not an Arrow dangerous and pretty . . . and not quite as he should be.
Selenka narrowed her eyes-just because he made her blood heat didn't mean she'd taken leave of her senses. Her grandparents hadn't raised an idiotka. "What are you?" The blunt question would've earned her a disappointed look from her polite and gentle and loving babushka, but the Arrow showed no reaction at all.
"A Gradient 7.9 Tk," he said in that clear voice that was music to her changeling hearing. Even toneless, it sang and made things inside her shiver in awareness.
"A telekinetic?" Drinking in the sound without being a slave to it, Selenka folded her arms and set her feet apart. "There's something else there-it's making my wolf's fur stand up." An odd resonance she couldn't explain. But it was nothing that repelled. No, there was nothing at all disturbing about the Arrow with the pale eyes-it was her strong physical response that was peculiar. Then again, her body was starved and he was pretty and dangerous with a voice straight out of a certain alpha's fantasies.
No wonder her wolf wanted to take a bite out of him.
The Arrow didn't respond to her challenge with aggression or cold retreat. "I am permanently damaged in ways that affect my psychic balance," he said. "You're likely sensing that-I haven't previously been in close contact with changelings, so I don't know if that is part of your natural skill set."
Selenka raised an eyebrow, her fascination with him unabated. Ivy Jane Zen, president of the Empathic Collective, had exhaustively briefed each and every person involved with the symposium, and one thing she'd made clear was that they'd be coming into contact with Es at all stages of post-Silence recovery.
"Silence," the small and curvy and fiercely protective woman had said, "was about eliminating emotion from our race. That made empaths a liability-but the PsyNet can't survive without Es in the mix. As a result, Designation E was erased from the books and our minds suffocated, our abilities crushed under shielding so brutal that scars are inevitable."
No one, however, had warned Selenka about an Arrow who spoke about psychic damage as if it were a simple scratch-even when that damage was so profound that it registered on changeling senses. Unless it wasn't about damage at all. More likely, he was giving her a pat answer in order to conceal some secret Arrow ability.
People who belonged to clandestine black ops squads didn't usually go around-as her dedushka would put it-spilling water out of their buckets. Selenka had a sneaking suspicion her grandfather had made up that proverb, but since he'd infected the whole pack with it, it was now set in cement.
As for the Arrow, well, alpha wolves didn't spill water out of their buckets, either.
Even as she parted her lips to reply, his attention jerked to over her head. His pupils flared, a sea of darkness that eclipsed the translucent brown.
"Close your eyes," he said, the words clipped and cold.
Selenka didn't take orders from anyone, including potential playmates.
But he slammed into her before she could respond, arms locking tight around her body. He had one hand on the back of her head, shoving her face into the hard muscle of his shoulder, the other clamped around her waist.
Claws slicing out as a snarl filled her chest, she went to thrust the sharp points into his gut . . . and that was when she heard the quiet.
No murmur from the more than three hundred people scattered through the massive symposium hall. No faint echoes of comm calls taken or sent. No click of heels or boots on the floor. Blood chilling, she pricked the Arrow with her claws instead of eviscerating him. "Let go unless you want immediate abdominal surgery." It came out a growl.
Unlocking from around her, he took a step backward, palms held up.
As if that meant anything. You could break every bone in a Psy body and they could still take you out with their mental abilities.
Especially when that Psy was an Arrow.
The hairs on her nape prickling, she continued to monitor him with her peripheral vision as she scanned as much of the hall as she could. Bozhe moi! Everyone was down. Everyone. She couldn't see Valentin or Silver, so they must've left the hall before whatever it was that had happened, but two of her lieutenants as well as two of Valentin's were on the floor, along with every single Arrow in her line of sight.
"It was the fastest way to neutralize the threat."
She snapped her gaze back to the very dangerous man who spoke without inflection or emotion-and had a voice that continued to purr against her ears. "What threat?" It came out harsh, but her wolf wasn't ready to go for blood, its instincts tempered by an unknown something nagging at her.
"The E in the green velvet jacket." He nodded toward the center of the room.
Selenka could see nothing unusual about the woman from this distance. "Stay ahead of me," she said. "No sudden movements."
Making no effort to use his telekinetic powers against Selenka, he walked with deadly grace to where the small brunette lay on her front. Hunkering down beside her after a glance at Selenka, he motioned that he'd like to turn the brunette woman over.
Selenka flexed her hands, claws still out. "Slow and easy."
The Arrow performed the action with an ease that spoke of honed strength, a stealthy hunter who didn't need to flash his power.
The empath's jacket was unbuttoned. It fell open to reveal a device Selenka recognized at once as a gas bomb. That Selenka was still standing meant the Arrow had taken down the woman before she could activate the bomb. "She's breathing." A soft rise and fall of her chest.
"She-and the others-are just unconscious," the Arrow said. "A few sore heads and the odd broken bone if they fell wrong, but it's better than death." Not an explanation but a statement.
Selenka had to agree. Chance the gas was harmless was around the same as a bear being on good behavior for more than ten minutes: a big fat zero. "Good call." Slicing her claws back into her body, she held out a hand before recalling that, Es aside, many of the psychic race tended to eschew contact.
A warm, rough hand slid against hers.
The contact shocked, an electric jolt straight to her core.
There you are, whispered a primal part of her psyche.
She was trying to breathe past the rush of noise in her brain when she caught motion in her peripheral vision. It could've been an innocent walking back into the hall, but her wolf smelled the faintest hint of old sweat-acrid and bitter, afraid. She reacted without thought, slamming her body into the Arrow's and taking him to the ground.
The projectile bullet that would've slammed into him scraped across her upper back. Hissing out a breath as the bullet penetrated the soft blue leather of her favorite jacket as well as the fine cotton of her T-shirt to dig a furrow in her skin, before smashing into the wall to their left, she went to twist to go for the shooter.
But the Arrow held out a hand and said, "Eyes," in that cold and uninflected tone.
She shut them this time.